The Girls Who Saved Gymnastics in Their Town

The parent’s meeting had been raging on for almost two hours and it had been getting really heated. The Russian coaches, who had been the team directors for the last four years, had left the gym for an offer that this gym could never match. Assistant coach, Jay Richardson, was the obvious and even popular choice and actually had more National TOPs girls than the Russians had ever had.

But there was no clear agreement among anyone on what directions the program should take and with gymnastics coaches in demand all over the country, no guarantee that without agreement that there would be any coaches at all.

This meeting was a hodge-podge of arguments about how to fill the power void left by the leaving of the Russians. In every gym, there always seems to be a natural conflict between parents, coaches and owners about who decides how to spend the money, what meets to go to, etc., etc, ad infinitum. Coaches want what is best for the whole team, parents are concerned about their own child, and owners have to worry about staying in business and paying the bills.

When it comes to power and money in a non-profit organization, you often find that there are more back-stabbing power plays going on in the team meetings than in the medieval times of knights and round tables. And no one at the meeting was agreeing to anything at this point. Each groups special interests were being blindly defended, tempers were growing short and time for an agreement were growing dimmer. Without some mutually beneficial arrangement, it appeared unlikely that there would be a competitive season for the only gym in town.

The potential new coach wasn’t ready to commit to the program without control over all of the gymnastics decisions. Parents thought that since they raised the money, they should be in control. The owner had to fight each year to keep from losing money on the team and to make a profit so she could stay in business. And yet still she spent additional time coaching and money buying the latest training equipment so her girls would not be at a disadvantage when it cam competition time.

And no on could agree on anything for the upcoming year until all of the disputes were resolved and it didn’t look like that was going to happen. Threats were starting to be made on all sides and the debates were beginning to take a nasty turn.

But in the next moment, without anyone able to see how, 10-year old Casey Richardson, a Level 8 gymnast, was up on the board meeting tables and was doing a series of gymnastics skills there right in front of everyone.

Her coach instinctively stood up and spotted her on the skill transition between tables. Casey landed and turned to her mom that she was now standing in front of on the table.

“Mom, do you know what this skill is that I learned today on the beam?”

“No, honey. Why are you on the table and why don’t you get down safely and go play in the gym while we all talk.”

Without a moment of hesitation, Casey asked, “Coach, do you know what color leotard I look best in.”

“Should I say yellow, since that’s what your wearing tonight?”, asked the coach.

“No. Mom, what color leotard do I look best in?”

“Blue, you look best in blue, because it sets off the color of your beautiful blue eyes.”

“Mrs. Brown, who broke his arm reaching over the bar to catch your daughter when her grip broke and she was going to land on her head?”

“Her coach, Jay, did and I could never thank him enough for sacrificing himself to make sure my Michelle was safe.”

By now, everyone knew Casey still had the floor (or actually the table). And she was moving from one person to the next person with seemingly an unrelated question for each one of them.

“And Mr. Thomasino, who were the only ones who were able to get flights and rooms at the last minute for Casey, Jenna, Carrie and Beth, to go to Nationals last year when all the flights were booked.”

“Well, I just knew that my company held reservations at the same hotel the meet was held at. It was Tom Gardner who talked that whole flight crew into staying over an extra day on their day off to free up room on the plane for the girls.”

“Mrs. Garth, who hand-painted those beautiful flowers on all of our leotards in those kind of dreamy pastel colors to make us the most beautiful and unique team leotards at States.”

“I just did what I can do best, but you should see what I want to add to them this year. They will look completely different and even better.”

“Mr. Sands, who pulled our float in the parade with his big huge truck even though he just came back from that all night drive on the way back from California.”

“Well, I did, but my wife stayed with me in the truck every minute to make sure I didn’t fall asleep going only five miles and hour.”

“Mrs. Goldsmith, who sold almost all of the signs on the wall in the gym to those businesses but let us all use the money to pay for meet travel for us and the coaches all year?”

“I know how to sell and I am happy to do it, but I wouldn’t have the first idea what to spend the money on that would be the best for the gym and all you girls.”

Casey said hesitantly, “Jay!” and then more forcefully, “Coach, what did the National Team Coach tell you after our last meet?

“He said he looked forward to seeing his girls compete against mine and that he wondered if he still would have more girls on National Team than I did over the next few years. “How did you know he said that?”

But Casey was already on to the next person.

And Dr. Castle, who paid their team fees ahead for the next ten years, that time the gym almost had to close.

I did, but how did you know that?

“Jenny heard you telling your wife you didn’t want anyone to know and she never told anyone until tonight when she told me. She didn’t even tell your daughter. Can I tell her now that everyone else knows? I think she should know.”

“Yes, I think you would be the best one to tell her.” He looked around at the other parents. “I know a lot of you think I don’t spend enough time helping out at the gym, but I didn’t want anyone to think I was trying to use my money to buy influence and power in the gym, so I made the coaches and owner promise never to tell.

The other parents were silent as they remembered how desperate everyone at the gym had been and how that sudden appearance of $50,000 had made it possible for their daughters to keep taking gym and go to States and end up doing so well there.

“Is there anyone else here who doesn’t know what they do best for us in the gym?”

Just then, Heather shouted, “Look out the window.”

And as everyone turned to the huge glass window overlooking the parking lot, they saw little Patti Miles standing on Dr. Cunningham’s Cadillac holding a huge cardboard star like the ones used in the parade and doing a scale. And National Team member, Sonya, was doing a handstand on the trunk. And Tanya, the junior team captain, and Terry, Jana and Britni, were doing splits with one leg on the hood and the other leg going up the windshield.

Dr. Cunningham said, Someone needs to get her off that car. She’s going to slip. I just waxed and washed it and it’s so slippery.

“Oh, No.” said Casey. “I lent her my special beam shoes that Mrs. Kowalski found for us. They can keep you from slipping off anything. But she said she’s going to stay up there on top of the car until she knows she can always go to gym even if she has to ride all the way home on top of the car.”

Everyone looked out and saw little Patti lift the star high over her head.

Casey said, “Team Rising Stars.”

And everyone finished, “Where every child is a star.”

And Casey added, “And those with strengths use their strength and everyone shows flexibility.”

The now new head coach said, “Casey, you girls have all made your point very well and I think we can handle it from here”.

He looked around and could see that everyone agreed.

“You can go tell Patti she can come down now.”

“OK, can we go play in the pit.”

“Yes, Jenny D is out there to watch you guys.”

He looked around and said, “Out of the mouths of babes. Isn’t it strange that our girls seem to know exactly what each of best contributes to the team and we didn’t?”

“Are we all clear on what she was telling us?”

“Gymnastics decisions are for the coaches and team owner and each parent continues to do what they do best for the team that the coaches and owner would never have the time, knowledge, contacts, resources and experience to do?”

“Why doesn’t everyone just write down what it is that they think they will be able to do for the team this year and somehow I think Casey and the girls are very likely to have the best gymnastics year of their lives.”

“All in favor!”

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